A fascinating peek into the life of a FIFO working parent

October 22, 2023
FIFO working parent

If you were a hairdresser considering your next career move, what would come to mind first?

If by chance, you thought of being a FIFO (fly in fly out) underground truck driver, then congratulations – you thought exactly as Danielle (Dani) Harvey did.

Okay, maybe this wasn’t your first thought. But if you’re reading this article, the idea of working in FIFO or mining must intrigue you a little. And if this is the case, Dani’s story offers some amazing insights.

From hairdressing to hauling: not your average career pivot

As a former hairdresser who started her career straight out of high school, it wasn’t until she had her son that the opportunity to switch careers surfaced.

“After having my son Hamish, I knew I didn’t want to go back to hairdressing full-time. I thought I would try something completely different but also something I always had an interest in.”

And one of those things was mining.

Dani had always been fascinated with operating big machines, which made the idea of working in mining appealing.

“Something about it really interests me. Plus, there are so many career opportunities here. Like if you start on trucks and decide it’s not for you, you can go over to services or development. And if underground is not for you, there is also surface work.”

For Dani, this is one of the best things about a career in mining: the possibilities are there – if you want it.

Looking back on her career switch, she says:

“It was a huge change. But it’s the best decision I’ve made!”

And, of course, a big part of how well things turned out is the people she works with and the great friendships she’s forged on-site.

Dani has been working with BHP for over two years now, and she’s also grateful to have such a caring crew and a supportive employer.

She adds:

“The culture here at BHP is also great. Everyone looks out for everyone. And if anyone needs help, there is always someone there.”

BHP empowers women in mining by providing highly flexible working arrangements, exceptional career development programs, and continuous learning opportunities.

Learn more 

What’s it like being a FIFO worker in mining?

“I’m on a seven-on/seven-off roster, and I alternate dayshift and nightshift. It definitely takes a bit to get used to and find your routine. For me, it probably took a good six to ten months to find what worked. Everyone is different. But once you find it, it’s a great roster to be on.”

Seven days on

A typical day shift for Dani looks like this:

  • 5:15 AM – Wake up
  • 5:30 AM – Leave camp
  • 5:45 AM – Arrive on-site
  • 6:00 AM – Change, tag on, and head to the offices
  • 6:50 AM – Pre-start meeting
  • After the pre-start meeting, she goes to her machinery, does pre-starts, and carries on with her assigned work.
  • Between 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM – Lunch break lasting about 50 minutes
  • After lunch, she resumes her work.
  • 6:00 – 6:30 PM – Swap with the night shift workers
  • 7:00 PM – Take a shower and walk out the gate
  • 7:15 PM – Call home for a quick chat
  • 7:45 – 8:30 PM – Gym
  • 8:30 – 9:15 PM – Dinner, shower, get ready for bed
  • 9:30 PM – Sleep

On day shifts, Dani comments, “You really don’t get much time for anything else on day shifts. I basically sleep, work, gym, eat, sleep.”

FIFO working parent

Night shifts, on the other hand, are quite different. 

“Night shifts, I’m a huge fan of!”

An average night shift follows this routine:

  • 4:30 PM – Arrive on site
  • 4:40 PM – Change, get to the office for pre-start meeting, have coffee
  • 5:40 PM – Pre-start meeting then head underground
  • 6:00 – 6:30 PM – Take over from the day shift workers
  • After swapping, she completes her prestart checks then starts her assigned work.
  • Between 9:30 PM to 1:30 AM – Dinner break lasting about 50 minutes
  • After dinner, she continues working throughout the night and early morning.
  • 4:30 AM – Park trucks, prepare for shift swap, clock out, shower 
  • 5:40 AM – Leave the site
  • 6:00 AM – 1:30 PM – Sleep 
  • 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM – Gym
  • 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM – Relax and prepare for the next shift

Seven days off

After being away from home for a week, Dani focuses on spending as much time with Hamish whenever she’s back for the next seven days. 

“My time at home mainly consists of school drop-offs and pick-ups.”

Her week off is also her time for self-care and relaxation.

“I go to the local CrossFit while Hamish is at school, and then I normally go for a walk around town or do gardening.”

Dani’s afternoons and evenings, meanwhile, are packed with activities with Hamish.

FIFO working parent

“After school, we normally have swimming lessons on one night, footy training another night, and little bits and bobs.”

And on the weekend, she tries to spend most of it outdoors with her family.

a photo of Dani

“In summer, we try to spend as much time as possible at the river. I’m a huge water fan and love skiing. Hamish has just started knee boarding, so we try to do that together as much as we can. Just relaxing by the water with a drink and cheese platter is perfect!”

The toughest part of the job

In FIFO work, there’s no sugarcoating being away from family and loved ones. 

“Hamish is turning seven this year and has taken to me working away – I’m very proud of him for that! Yes, there have been a few tears here and there, and it breaks my heart when he asks me why I have to work away. But 90% of the time, he is fantastic.”

Then there’s what Dani calls the ‘Day Three Blues’.

“I find that typically on day three of being up there, you have what I call the ‘Day Three Blues’. It’s just utterly missing home. This day seems to be the longest, most trying day – everything that could go wrong seems to go wrong for me on this day.”

“When I’m having an off day, the crew notice and get around me and cheer me up, which helps a lot. It definitely helps having a great crew and friendships up here.”

She continues:

“I just try to buckle down and get the job done. Once back at camp, I call home. Then I just hit the gym hard, and I normally end up getting a chocolate bar from the little shop. Chocolate fixes everything, right?”

After some reflection, Dani shares:

“Yes, I do miss out on some things. But the full weeks I get at home with my family makes up for the time I miss.”

The best part of the job

Despite the challenges of FIFO work, the pros very much outweigh the cons for Dani.

And it’s all because of the camaraderie and genuine friendships she’s made there.

“I talk basically every second day – if not every day – to a few of my crew members.”

“They honestly feel like family. You have to remember that you spend a lot of time with your crew. They understand what it’s like up there, and they’re in the same boat as you in being away from home and loved ones.”

As far as her career goes, she couldn’t think of anything better.

“This role lets me push myself to learn new things, explore different worlds underground, and drive big machines.”

Could FIFO be for you?

Dani knows, though, that FIFO work isn’t for everyone. 

But if it’s something you’re interested in or even thought about a little, she encourages you to at least consider it.

“See if you want to do it. It’s the best thing – the experiences and friendships you make are great. It makes it all worth it!”

And, best of all, no hairdressing experience required.

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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